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A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 3 Summary

The Angel

  • We're back in John's childhood – so here's Johnny.
  • Tabby has a good eye for fashion, and she's an even better seamstress. When she goes to Boston, she takes clothes from fancy stores home with her, sews her own copies of them, and then returns the originals.
  • We learn that she has a dressmaker's dummy in her room that is an exact replica of her figure. Even Dan insists that it can make someone look twice. Tabby always has clothes on it; Johnny assumes she does this out of either decency or playfulness.
  • Owen and Johnny make a game out of dressing up the dummy. Tabby loves how Owen can make up interesting new outfits by combining her old clothes in ways she hadn't thought of before.
  • Like we said back in Chapter 2, Tabby only really wears black and white. She has this one red dress, though. She never wears it. She found it in a store in Boston and copied it in both white and black because she liked the cut so much.
  • When she tried to return the red dress, she couldn't. She tells Johnny that the store burned to the ground. She finally got in touch with a lawyer, who said that everything was destroyed in the fire – all of the inventory, bills of sale, and receipts. Even the phone and cash register melted!
  • Tabby never wears the red dress because it makes her visibly uncomfortable. The only time she ever wears it is when she acts in one of Dan's plays, and she fidgets practically the whole time.
  • John (as the grown-up narrator) makes a point to illustrate that, when they were kids, Owen was really familiar with the dummy because they played with it so often. Still, John mentions, Owen never saw the dummy at night.
  • One night (way before the baseball incident), Owen sleeps over at 80 Front Street in the other twin bed in Johnny's room.
  • Owen complains that he feels sick. Actually, he says, "IT FEELS LIKE A RARE DISEASE" (3.38). This strikes us as being hilarious for some reason.
  • Johnny tells Owen to go tell Tabby about it. Owen leaves and then comes back and shakes Johnny. He tells Johnny that there's someone strange in Tabby's room and he thinks it's an angel.
  • They go to investigate and wake Tabby up in the process. Johnny announces that Owen has a fever. Tabby lets Owen crawl into bed with her. She falls asleep immediately. Owen says he's going to stay with Tabby in case the angel comes back.
  • John (as the narrator) tells us that, years later, Owen would tell him that he thought he had disrupted the "SCHEME OF THINGS" by interrupting an angel at work (3.66). Specifically, Owen believed that he had interrupted the Angel of Death, who then reassigned the task of killing Tabby to Owen.
  • In a moment of comedy, Johnny's grandmother walks into the room while Owen is in Tabby's bed. Owen screams a terrible scream in his awful, screechy voice. Harriet screams, too.
  • Owen later tells Johnny that his grandmother was "WAILING LIKE A BANSHEE" (3.87).
  • We learn that Tabby dated Dan Needham for four years before she married him. It struck everyone as being kind of weird, because they were so obviously in love from the get-go and they got engaged after just a couple of months together.
  • John (as the narrator) mulls over the question of why Tabby and Dan waited four years to get married. Tabby always just insisted that they were waiting to be sure.
  • We learn that Dan never had a problem with Tabby's singing lessons in Boston, which always struck John as being odd, because he always figured the singing teacher was his dad.
  • We also learn a little bit more about Dan: he comes from a very high-powered family. They sort of looked down on Dan for becoming a prep-school teacher, because they figured he could have done something more prestigious. They also didn't approve of Tabby.
  • Dan's family also looked down on Johnny for being born out of wedlock, so Dan stopped having anything to do with them.
  • John (as the grown-up narrator) talks about how he and Tabby left the Congregational church for the Episcopal Church after Tabby and Dan got married. He compares and contrasts the two ministers.
  • Rev. Lewis Merrill is someone that we've met before – he's the Congregationalist minister. Johnny likes him.
  • Then there's Rev. Dudley Wiggin over at the Episcopal Church. John refers to him as "a bumpkin of boredom" (3.122).
  • In terms of ability to preach, Rev. Merrill is the clear winner – people love his sermons. Still, he preaches a lot about doubt. In retrospect, though, John points out that the only people he ever knew who didn't seem to have religious doubts were Rev. Wiggin and Owen.
  • Then we learn a little bit about the ministers' wives. Mrs. Merrill is from California, and the cold weather in New Hampshire hasn't been that kind to her. She looks completely haggard, and she's always getting sick. The Merrill kids aren't that much to write home about, either. According to John, they're totally forgettable. Maybe that's why we never learn their names?
  • Then we have Rev. Wiggin's family. His wife, Barbara, was once a stewardess. She goes by "Barb." Owen totally despises her.
  • We find out that there's a middle ground between the two of them: Hurd's Church, the interdenominational church at Gravesend Academy. We learn that Tabby had both her wedding and her funeral there.
  • Let's zoom into the July day in 1952 when Dan and Tabby tie the knot, shall we?
  • Both Rev. Merrill and Rev. Wiggin officiate Tabby and Dan's wedding. John describes the event as a kind of showdown between the two ministers.
  • Then there's a reception at 80 Front Street. It's a really hot day. Everyone is sort of sweating and gross.
  • A lot of people we know are at the wedding, including Owen and his dad, Mr. Meany; Hester, Noah, and Simon are there, too.
  • Harriet Wheelwright is ruling the roost as usual. She won't let anyone use the bathrooms upstairs. Hester really has to pee. The boys brag to her that they can pee in the bushes because they're boys.
  • Hester decides to pee in the bushes, too. She takes of her panties and hands them to Owen.
  • Mr. Meany leaves the party without Owen, who insists on staying.
  • Owen presents Dan and Tabby with a gift that he made himself: it's a piece of granite that he polished, smoothed, and inscribed with the date of July 1952. We find out that Dan will use this stone as a doorstop for years and will always smash his toes on it.
  • Owen becomes really playful with Hester about her panties. He keeps threatening to bring them out at inopportune times. Hester spends the remainder of the party stalking Owen, which makes Johnny jealous.
  • Tabby and Dan get ready to leave for their honeymoon. Meanwhile, it starts raining. Then it starts hailing like crazy.
  • Johnny kisses Tabby and Dan goodbye. Meanwhile, Tabby offers Owen a ride home because it's too gross out for him to ride his bike home. Owen is really pleased because it means he gets to go on the first leg of the honeymoon.
  • Tabby gets out of the car to let Owen scootch into the middle seat. A hailstone hits her between the eyes. She cries, "ow!" and Owen responds with "I'M SORRY!" – hmm, when has he said that before? Oh, right – following another event that we know about in which Tabby gets hit in the head…
  • Johnny picks up a hailstone and marvels at how it is as hard as a baseball. Hmm.
  • This image provides John with the perfect segue to talk about his mom's death. Specifically, we find ourselves at her funeral.
  • Mr. Chickering, the baseball coach, was particularly moved during the funeral. He was weeping away. John talks about how some of his teammates were there, like Henry Hoyt, who could have been the last out but walked instead, helping Owen to get up to bat.
  • We learn that Harry Hoyt will die in Vietnam. He will be bitten by a poisonous snake while he waits his turn at a whorehouse. In response to her son's death, Mrs. Hoyt will start counseling boys on how to evade the draft. We'll see more of her later.
  • Buzzy Thurston, the other kid we remember from the baseball game, doesn't go to Tabby's funeral. This irks John.
  • We learn that Buzzy will go on to a state university. He will try to evade the draft by poisoning himself, which he accomplishes by drinking copious amounts of booze, smoking tons of pot, and doing LSD and peyote.
  • Luckily for Buzzy, this effort will pay off and keep him out of Vietnam; unfortunately, he'll find himself hooked on all these substances and will die by driving head-on into the abutment of the bridge on Maiden Hill Road.
  • Back to the funeral.
  • Chief Pike sits by the door eyeing everyone – he's still on the hunt for whoever stole the "murder weapon" – the baseball, that is.
  • The service goes on. They sing a hymn that Owen finds particularly inspirational, "Crown Him with Many Crowns." This hymn will pop up again later.
  • Everyone goes to the cemetery. As Rev. Merrill prays over the casket, Johnny notices that Mrs. Merrill is holding her ears. Then Hester follows suit. Then Simon, Noah, Aunt Martha, Uncle Alfred, and Lydia all hold their ears. Johnny notices that his grandmother does not hold her ears.
  • Then Johnny realizes why they are all holding their ears: it's because the cemetery is near a baseball field, and they can hear the crack of the bat over and over. Oof. Bad timing for this funeral.
  • At the end of the funeral, Johnny notices Owen, who refuses to take his hands off of his ears. Johnny hears Owen say, "I'M SORRY!" twice.
  • Johnny goes back to 80 Front Street. Aunt Martha takes him up to his room and tells him that he can come to stay with the Eastmans whenever he wants to.
  • She leaves, and Johnny's grandmother comes in. She tells him that he can have his old room back if he wants to come live at 80 Front Street again.
  • Then she leaves and Dan takes his turn. We find out that Dan has already legally adopted Johnny, and that he'll get to go to Gravesend Academy when he hits high school age. Dan tells Johnny that he would like him to continue living with him in his faculty apartment but will let Johnny figure out what arrangement is best for him.
  • Johnny stays at 80 Front Street for the night, while Dan goes back to the dorm apartment.
  • Hester takes Johnny for a walk. She reminds him that Owen feels even worse than Johnny does. Johnny is a little jealous that Hester has been thinking about Owen.
  • Hester and Johnny walk to the cemetery. There's a familiar truck there – Owen is at the cemetery with his dad. Mr. Meany tells Johnny that Owen still had a few things that he wanted to say to Tabby.
  • Mr. Meany also informs Johnny that he will follow Tabby's wishes and won't interfere if Owen wants to go to Gravesend Academy.
  • Johnny and Hester approach Owen, who is at Tabby's grave reading from The Book of Common Prayer. Johnny calls out to Owen.
  • Owen flips out: "I HEAR YOU!" he shouted angrily. "WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" (3.288). Hester gasps because "it had suddenly occurred to her – Whom Owen thought he was speaking to" (3.289).
  • Owen asks about how Dan is doing. Owen insists that they need to go get the dressmaker's dummy from Dan's apartment, because otherwise Dan might just stare at it and pine away for Tabby.
  • When they get to Dan's apartment, it's clear that Dan has been drinking.
  • Owen picks up the dummy and marches out with it. They get back in the car.
  • Hester comments that it's such a nice night that she'd love to drive down to the beach and back. Owen commands his dad to drive them to the beach.
  • Hester, Johnny, and Owen walk in the surf.
  • Then Mr. Meany drops Hester and Johnny off at 80 Front Street. Owen keeps the dummy.
  • We come back to the present – it's February 1, 1987. John talks about how he believes in angels now, even though he didn't before.
  • We learn that John is stewing about the fact that he not only didn't win his church's Vestry elections – he wasn't even nominated.
  • We become acquainted with two major figures in John's current religious life, Canon Campbell and Canon Mackie. Canon Mackie is the new rector at John's church. Canon Campbell was the old rector who recently passed away.
  • John sort of watches Canon Mackie's service with a critical eye. He admits, though, that the Thirty-seventh Psalm really resonates with him. He suggests that we'll see this particular psalm pop up again soon.

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